Jesus and Jonah

Surely every Bible teacher knows the importance of trying to teach the principles of the Bible more deeply than we often do. One way to do that is to tie together lessons from the Old and New Testament and show how the principles relate to us today.

The book of Jonah probably has as many lessons and principles that relate to Christianity as any book of its size in the Old Testament. One of my earliest sermons of more than 50 years ago (borrowed, I am sure, from another person) discussed the following: We see Jonah first, running away from God. Second, he was running to God. Third, he was running with God. Fourth, he was running ahead of God.

But today I want to consider Jonah as a type of Christ, for Christ said in Matt. 12:40, "For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." Let us note several points that make it proper for the Lord to speak of "the sign of Jonah the prophet" as He compared himself to Jonah (Matt. 12:39). Although He was speaking of His burial, there are several other points of comparison we could make.

First, because of the infinite love of God for a lost and wayward people, Jonah was sent on a mission of revelation, condemnation and redemption. Paul says, "This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief" (I Tim. 1:15). To the Jew, it was amazing almost beyond belief that God loved people in the Gentile nations. It might deepen our appreciation to know that the words "Gentile" and "nations" are often translated from the Greek word "ethnos" which suggests persons of various ethnic groups rather than simply "nations" as we normally think of them. Even after Peter had been with Jesus for three years and had seen His infinite love manifested to the fullest, he could not quite grasp that significant fact, as shown in the story of Cornelius in Acts 10 and 11. I shamefully confess that it is almost beyond my comprehension that God can so love men like Castro and Hitler that He sent His Son to die for them. But it fills me with humble gratitude that I am included in that list for which He died.

Jesus not only came into the world to preach the gospel, but that there might be a gospel to preach. It is remarkable that in most of these lessons on types, Jesus, the antitype is almost always more than the type. He is both the giver and the gift; He is the bread and water; He is the manna and the one who gave it; He is the sacrifice, and the one who offered the sacrifice. So in this case, He is the preacher, and the message preached.

As Jonah voluntarily gave himself up (Jonah 2:2,3) so Christ became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. He said, "No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself" (John 10:18). As in all cases, we must not try to press all details of a story into a type, for Jonah was fleeing from the presence of God because he did not want to do His bidding. Jesus came from God because He did want to do His will. Jonah deserved death for His disobedience. Jesus was delivered up for our offenses, but did not deserve to die.

But when Jesus named Jonah as a type of himself, the primary thing He had in mind was that as Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days and nights so would Christ be in the heart of the earth. We need to understand that the expression "three days and nights," "on the third day," and "after three days" all refer, in the language of the Bible, to the same period of time. There are some who still erroneously try to find a way to keep Jesus in the tomb for three full 24-hour days. There is no way to do that, for if one managed to twist the chronology to do that, he would still be in trouble with how to reconcile the expression "on the third day" with "after three days". If we realize that we do not have any contradictions to try to reconcile, but the expressions all referred to the same time period, then the chronology is easy to discover.

But as the big fish could not keep Jonah, neither could the grave keep the Savior. He arose to proclaim the saving message to lost people. God "is long suffering to usward, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9). But the basic truth is that they needed to believe the message of Jonah and repent.

Sometimes we say, "Repentance means a change of life." Although that is technically and grammatically wrong, it is true that when and if a person repents in accordance with the scriptural meaning of the term, he will change his life. Paul helps us to see what repentance actually means, especially if we read his language in the Greek text in 2 Corinthians 7:8-10. Sorrow is not repentance. Even Godly sorrow is not repentance. But Godly sorrow causes a person to change his mind toward the sins of which he has been guilty, and determine to quit them. Reformation of life is the natural and inevitable consequence of that change of mind. So, although the word "repentance" does not mean a change of life, true repentance involves a change of life.

A person who is living in a state where he regularly is committing fornication, or adultery, or theft, or lying, or any other sin, must, if he repents, stop living in that manner. Jesus said in Matt. 12:41, "The men of Nineveh shall rise up in judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at (eis) the preaching of Jonah, and a greater than Jonah is here." Denominational preachers have tried to prove by this passage that "eis" means "because of," for they feel sure that the men of Nineveh repented because of the preaching of Jonah. Granting that they did, that is not what this verse says. They repented into that condition demanded by the preaching of Jonah. They sustained a relationship to Jonah and his preaching afterwards that they did not have before. So, being baptized into (eis) Christ, or being baptized for (eis) remission of sins indicates a different position or relationship than one had before.

This is why it is so important to realize that the expression in Acts 2:38 is exactly the same, both in Greek and in English, as that in Matthew 26:28. The blood that was shed for (eis) remission of sins and the baptism for (eis) remission of sins changes one into a different relationship. So the Ninevites had a different relationship after they repented. It is suggested by the fact that Jonah 3:10 says that God repented of the evil that He had said He would do to them, and did it not. When they changed toward God, it is appropriate to say God changed toward them, although in a basic sense God did not change at all. He always hates sin and loves righteousness, and their change did not cause Him to change in that regard. So a wonderful paradox is that God had to change His mind (repent) toward Nineveh because He is unchangeable!

So as Jonah brought a message of hope and salvation to those whom he probably despised, so Christ brought a message of hope to the whole Gentile world, which the Jews despised. Even in our day, we need to feel the importance of this. We apparently have a tendency, in some areas, to desire to preach the gospel only to people who are like we are. This is one reason why, if we get involved in any effort that attempts to reach and/or minister to the needs of all classes of people, we will need to restructure our thinking, in some cases, that we might be able to receive into our fellowship those who have practiced homosexuality, drunkenness, fornication of the vilest sort, and other sins so base that some of us do not even know what they are. But if those persons have been reached and changed by the gospel message which will be sent to their homes, and followed up by face to face teaching, we must receive them as part of our family. We need to thrill again with the statement of Paul in I Corinthians 6:11, "And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God."

Churches and individuals need to begin to get ready to deal with people who are hurting, lonely and outcasts rather than just receive someone like we are who is "looking for a church home." Jonah has many lessons for us, but some of the richest are those we find as we think of him as being a type of Christ.

T. Pierce Brown

Published in The Old Paths Archive